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France extends curfew as time runs out to contain virus

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News conference on COVID-19 situation in France, in Paris
News conference on COVID-19 situation in France, in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France will widen a coronavirus curfew to more than two thirds of its population, its prime minister said on Thursday, warning that time was running out to slow the spread of infection and avoid even tougher measures.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said the nightly curfew would be extended from France's main cities to an additional 38 administrative departments and would now impact a total of 46 million people and include some overseas territories.

It means that the greater Paris region, much of northern France and the southeast of the country including the Pyrenees will be under the 9 p.m. - 6 a.m. curfew.

Brittany and the Atlantic coast largely escaped the measure.

"If we fail to stop the pandemic, we will be facing a dire situation and we will have to mull much tougher measures," Castex told a press conference. "We still have time to avoid that but we don't have much time."

Paris and eight other major cities were placed under curfew last Saturday.

With a population of about 67 million, France has reported a seven-day average of more than 20,000 new cases over the past six days and the total number of confirmed infections is over 957,000. More than 34,000 people have died.

"The coming weeks will be hard and the number of deaths will continue to rise," Castex added.

The new curfews will last six weeks from Friday at midnight and could be tightened if necessary, he added.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said he was hoping to see the first positive signs of the initial curfew on Paris next week.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Andrew Cawthorne)